Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: October 24th, 2011
Date finished: October 26th, 2011
Princess Elisa is married off to the king of a neighbouring country on her sixteenth birthday, in part to strengthen a military alliance. She's overweight and insecure and constantly feels inferior to her older, clever sister, and figures that the only reason she's the one marrying the king is because because she is this generation's "Chosen One". Elisa has a gemstone in her navel, a God-stone, that marks the bearer as having a great or significant task in their future. Elisa's lived a sheltered life, is nervous about being married off to a handsome man, and sent to his kingdom, far away from home. Her only comforts are food and books.
When Elisa arrives at her new home, she realizes that not only does her husband have a mistress, he's kept his new marriage and his alliance with Elisa's father a secret, even to his closest advisors. She soon discovers that, though her husband may be handsome, he's not necessarily a brave or decisive man. He neglects his son, and clearly tries to avoid confrontations, as much as possible. Elisa also discovers that nearly everyone in her new homeland knows much more about the God-stone than she, and that her sister and father, and pretty much all the people she's ever counted on and trusted, knew about the many prophecies regarding the Chosen One. Suffice to say, this doesn't make her feel any better about herself, or her murky future task.
Elisa's life changes dramatically when she is kidnapped by a small band of resistance fighters. She is taken on a long trek across the desert and held in a tiny border village, where the people are constantly ravaged by the ongoing war, without any help being sent from the king in the capital. The resistance group knows that Elisa has the God-stone, and hopes that she will be able to save them from certain death. How can Elisa, with her insecurity, book learning and inexperience, rise to the occasion and fulfill her destiny?
Girl of Fire and Thorns is the first book in what I'm assuming will be a trilogy (aren't they all these days, or longer?), but works perfectly well on its own, with a self-contained story. It's a great young adult book, as it provides a great role model for young women in Princess Elisa. While she starts out as obese and insecure, it's clear to the reader that she's a good and loyal person, and while she's hard on herself, she never wallows in self-pity for long, and she tries to make the best of the situations she finds herself in. She finds herself in a variety of dangerous situations over the course of the book, and never discovers hidden super powers, but shows incredible, realistic bravery in that she faces her challenges square on, refusing to run away or sacrifice others to save herself. Elisa is by no means perfect, but she's been raised to serve her people, and she knows that many of the bearers of the God-stone died either before or while they fulfilled their destiny, and she's determined to do her duty, even if it scares the heck out of her and may mean her death.
There's a supporting cast of great characters, too, who help fill out the story. Elisa's nurse, Ximena, is especially good. The plot has some surprising twists, and takes the "Chosen One" trope from classic fantasy in interesting directions. I will be looking forward to the sequels of this one.